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Ken Price; artist who helped develop a revolution in ceramics

NEW YORK - Ken Price, whose small, worldly, exquisitely finished abstract sculptures in glazed or painted clay exploded the distinction between art and craft and established him as one of the outstanding artists of postwar America, died Friday at his home in Arroyo Hondo, N.M., outside Taos. He was 77.

His family said that the cause was cancer.

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Mr. Price belonged to a talent-rich generation of artists who emerged in the late 1950s and ‘60s, responding to the innovations of abstract expressionism with innovations of their own. Until the last decade of his life, when he started working larger, his compressed, bravura objects rarely measured more than 10 or 20 inches on a side. Their forms oscillated between the biomorphic and the geometric, the geological and the architectural.

With artists like Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Ed Ruscha, and Craig Kauffman, Mr. Price was a progenitor of the finish fetish school of meticulous object-making that did so much to establish Los Angeles as an art capital. He helped to usher vibrant color irrevocably into modern sculpture, often with the help of automobile lacquer and enamel.

But his greatest achievement might have been to help foment a revolution in ceramics that was in many ways the genesis of the Southern California art scene.

Only one museum survey of his work was held during Mr. Price’s lifetime - organized at the Menil Collection in Houston in 1992. A 50-year retrospective is to open at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in September and travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York next year.

Kenneth Martin Price was born on Feb. 16, 1935, in West Hollywood in Los Angeles. He received his bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Southern California in 1956.

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